Ramesh Ponnuru


Alex Aichinger
Kirsten Andersen
Brent Barksdale
Jim Couture
Andrew Downey
Natalie Farr
Joe Giardiello
Bret Hrbek
Sang Mi Kim
Ramesh Ponnuru
Tom Scerbo
Dorothy Seese
Jason Soter

Senate Candidate Bob Franks of New Jersey

Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel

Life and the Parties: Muddled Views on Abortion Prevail
June 21, 2024

In early June, the Los Angeles Times polled more than 2,000 adults about their views on abortion. The results were not surprising to any serious student of public opinion on the subject. But if taken seriously, they would be deadly to the conventional wisdom.

The CW on abortion politics is that most people favor keeping abortion legal, although harboring serious moral qualms about the procedure itself. And the Republican party, by taking a more intransigent position, is said to be hurting itself, especially with women. The challenge for the Republican party, then, is to satisfy conservative Christians without turning off the “pro-choice majority.”

Trouble is, the pro-choice majority doesn’t exist. In the Los Angeles Times poll, 54 percent of respondents said that abortion should either be illegal or legal only in the case of rape or incest or to save a mother’s life. A majority, that is, takes a position identical to, or to the right of, that of George W. Bush and the Republican platform. This finding corroborates a poll taken last year for the Center for Gender Equity, a feminist group, which found that 53 percent of women took one of these anti-abortion positions.

The polls that have been friendliest to the abortion lobby are those that ask questions at the highest level of generality: Do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do you favor Roe v. Wade? Here there has been some movement in recent years, presumably largely owing to the controversy over partial-birth abortion. In 1991, 56 percent of respondents supported Roe v. Wade; today only 43 percent do, while 42 percent oppose it. Most people don’t know much about that decision, so their response is best seen as an indication of attitudes about whether abortion is too freely available.

Anti-abortionists have another public-opinion trend working in their favor: intensity. In election after election, they have proved far more likely to vote on the issue than the other side is. The Times poll doesn’t measure this tendency directly. But it did ask whether people were more or less likely to vote for Gov. Bush if they knew he opposed abortions with the usual trio of exceptions. Answer: 27 percent were more likely to vote for him, only 13 percent less likely. Among self-described “moderates,” the numbers were 24 and 13. Al Gore’s support for abortion rights, meanwhile, lost him some votes: 21 percent of people were less likely to support him because of his position, with 18 percent more likely. The pattern was much the same among women, with 23 percent less likely and 19 percent more likely.

These findings should be enough to demonstrate two things. First, abortion does not go very far toward explaining the gender gap. Second, abortion is not a very important issue in an election for most voters. This second point helps explain some of the other findings in the poll—for instance, that about 65 percent of the public didn’t know whether Gore was for or against legal abortion (ditto for Bush). The Times poll also found, consistent with other surveys, that majorities were willing to say both that abortion was murder and that it should be a woman’s choice.

People don’t like thinking about abortion, so it’s not surprising that their conclusions can seem a little muddled. That aversion to the issue, indeed, is the principal political problem for anti-abortion politicians. They have good reason to fear being seen as zealous crusaders. But they have no good reason to worry that their position itself is “extreme” or “unpopular.”

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